By Michael Woo
The first Sunday of the NFL season has come and gone, and 25 Stanford alumni were active on NFL 53-man rosters. Most notably, the Indianapolis Colts featured four Stanford players in their starting lineup — two on each side of the ball.
After adding key veterans in Andre Johnson and Frank Gore to the offense, many have touted the Colts as a Super Bowl favorite. Yet, as expected, the success of the Colts will still depend on star quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck had a breakout year in 2014 and emerged as one of the elite quarterbacks in the league, throwing for 4,761 yards and 40 touchdowns.
However, Sunday revealed that the young quarterback still has room to grow. The Buffalo Bills, who possess one of the top defenses in the league, are a tough opponent for a season opener, especially after Buffalo brought in defensive mastermind Rex Ryan as head coach.
As a result, Luck struggled all day, completing only 53 percent of his passes and throwing two interceptions. The Colts managed just nine first downs and 148 yards of total offense in the first half, and the Bills jumped out to a commanding 24-0 lead. It was not until there was 54 seconds left in the third quarter that the Colts got on the scoreboard, when Luck completed his first of two touchdown passes on the day.
Consequently, former Stanford tight end Coby Fleener’s offensive production also waned, as he only hauled in one pass for 5 yards. Last year, as part of a two-tight-end attack, Fleener posted a career-high 8 touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball, rookies Henry Anderson and David Parry started on the defensive line. Last year, the Colts’ primary weakness was stopping the run, an aspect of their defense that still needs addressing after Week 1: Buffalo rushed the ball 36 times and averaged 4.1 yards per carry.
Parry, a former Stanford walk-on, was thrust into the starting lineup in the preseason because starting defensive tackle Arthur Jones suffered a season-ending ankle injury. The rookie only recorded one tackle all game, exposing the Colts’ shortcomings up front, specifically in the middle.
Anderson, however, fared much better in his debut. Starting at defensive end, he totaled nine tackles, three of which resulted in losses. Nevertheless, the Colts dropped their opener 27-14. While Luck will certainly bounce back and put up his typical gaudy numbers, the development of the young Indianapolis defensive line will be the more important storyline to monitor, and the key to how far the Colts advance this season.
The only other Stanford grad who appears in more NFL headlines than Andrew Luck is All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. Sherman’s typically quiet numbers in Week 1 reflect that quarterbacks around the league are still afraid of testing him: He only recorded three tackles and one pass defended, as the ball was rarely thrown to his side of the field.
The Rams, however, found enough success moving the ball elsewhere and were able to upset the Seahawks with a 34-31 overtime win. Friend and teammate Doug Baldwin, coming off a career-high 66 receptions last season, picked up where he left off with 7 in the season opener, but only produced 35 yards.
As for the other rookies in the 2015 draft class, it was a quiet opening weekend. Andrus Peat, who was drafted 13th overall by the Saints, has yet to crack the starting lineup and has rotated as a backup at both left and right tackle. The Saints are planning to develop Peat this year and ease him into the mix.
Jordan Richards, taken by the New England Patriots with the last pick in the second round, has played sparingly in sub packages, but failed to record a stat in his debut. Many deemed drafting Richards in the second round a reach, but the safety was praised in the offseason for his smarts and intangibles.
Ty Montgomery, a third-round pick, was active on Sunday for the Green Bay Packers, but did not record a catch. Having lost Jordy Nelson for the season, Packers fans were expecting a more productive debut for the rookie, who had a solid preseason. Adjusting from college football to the NFL is a difficult task for many rookies, and simply making the active game day roster in Week 1 is a major step in the right direction.
Contact Michael Woo at mtwoo ‘at’ stanford.edu.